Backcountry Level III Training Fosters Outdoor Competence Across Generations of Trip Leaders

In the world of the Outdoor Recreation Committee at Colorado College, it’s not uncommon to see students proudly donning trucker hats stating: “Outdoor Education Trip Leader.” Nor is it out of the ordinary to spot yellow Marmot backpacks with the same title stitched across the front, bobbing up and down on an outdoorswoman’s shoulders. The Outdoor Education Department awards this apparel to those who qualify as Backcountry Level I and Level II leaders, respectively. But what about the snazzy blue Outdoor Research hoodies that represent the illustrious—yet elusive—Backcountry Level III status? Why are those so infrequent?

Through the Ahlberg Leadership Institute (ALI), the Outdoor Education Department has designed a progression for students with varying backcountry abilities prior to CC to gain the skills and experiences needed to lead outdoor trips for the school. Level I leadership requires a weekend-long training at the CC Cabin, First Aid and CPR certification, and participation on at least two outdoor trips. Level II is more rigorous; students must complete a longer training, in addition to receiving Wilderness First Responder certification and leading an overnight trip. Many students achieve both levels if committed and passionate about outdoor education. However, while Levels I and II can seem more or less like a series of boxes to check off, Level III requires a continuous presence in outdoor education and a desire to foster a community of well-trained, enthusiastic leaders for future students.

This past weekend, the only Level III Backcountry training of the year took place. Four participants, led by Andrew Allison-Godfrey, Outdoor Education and  Ritt Kellogg Memorial Fund Coordinator, set about practicing effective teaching skills. Each participant selected three lessons to teach to the group—everything from map and compass to campfire skills. While hiking in Beaver Creek Wilderness Area and camping at Shelf Road, each participant chose appropriate moments to teach their lessons, with the other participants providing immediate feedback on their lesson content and delivery. Though it’s likely that Level III training participants have encountered these topics before, teaching them to others provides a new challenge and a sense of accomplishment.

The training itself, however, does not certify a Level III leader. In addition to this past  weekend, participants must also commit to leading a Level I training at the CC Cabin and mentoring a Level II training, and must have led at least 20 days in the field. This commitment emphasizes that Level III is not just the pursuit of a title and a snazzy jacket, but rather, the desire to usher new, effective leaders into outdoor education.

Trip participant Olivia Noonan ’20 exemplifies what it means to be a Level III leader and give back to the program. “I had never been backpacking before—let alone camping,” Noonan said of her experience prior to attending CC. After falling in love with the Rocky Mountains on her FOOT trip, Noonan wanted to get involved with the ALI Backcountry Leader track, so she pursued its different trainings. “I learned so many skills from these student-taught trips and trainings and can accredit these skills to other CC leaders who voluntarily shared their outdoor knowledge with other aspiring backcountry adventurers,” Noonan explained. “I now feel like it is my duty to enable other students to get out and explore our incredible surroundings regardless of their level of prior experience.”

With their latest training under their belts, Noonan and the other participants of Backcountry Level III have taken time to reflect with Allison-Godfrey on how they see themselves contributing to outdoor education in the future. While leadership in outdoor education may come in a variety of forms, the ALI leadership tracks ensure that all leaders have the expertise and experiences necessary to lead and teach. However, regardless of what next steps participants take, the training is an enjoyable and empowering experience.

“I love Level III because it gives an opportunity for students to develop their skills,” Allison-Godfrey said. “It’s awesome to see students who started at Colorado College with little-to-no backcountry experience progress to a level where they are able to teach other students the skills they learned as underclassmen.” The passion of these student leaders for the outdoors, combined with the guidance of the the Outdoor Education Department, will ensure that this cycle continues.

Sarah Laico

Sarah Laico

Sarah is a junior from Warwick, New York. After being Head Writer of her high school paper, she has enjoyed continuing her passion for journalism working at the Catalyst. An outdoors enthusiast, Sarah loves to rockclimb, hike, ski, and trail run, and she also is a backpacking, rafting, and climbing leader for the Outdoor Education Center. When she is not editing for the Active Life section at the Catalyst or monitoring at CC's Ritt Kellogg Climbing Gym, Sarah can be found playing drums and eating cereal.

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